(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)
Monday February 1st, 2016
Well, things change very quickly sometimes. But before I get to just what I mean by that I’ll start by sharing something I wrote last night after dinner:
“We have gone dark, no power – and we weren’t even very high tech before this outage! There are a few pieces of good news: the rains have stopped, which means that while my hooded sweatshirt may not dry out at least it won’t be continuing to collect more water for now; one of our roommates departed today leaving behind the two sleeping bags she borrowed from the Sisters, so with no heater I’m able to get warmed up with an added layer; and the stoves in the kitchen are gas fired so we were able to enjoy a delicious, hot tofu soup for dinner amid the glow of headlamps. After lunch, on my quick paced dash back down to Clarity on the dirt steps amid the rain, I altered a practice song:
The mind can go in a thousand directions
but on this muddy path I’m getting wet.
With each step I’m getting wetter,
with each step I’m getting colder.
(The real version: The mind can go in a thousand directions
but on this lovely path I walk in peace.
With each step a gentle wind blows,
with each step a flower blooms.)
Singing in this way caused me to smile and laugh rather than get mired in the unpleasantness of the situation. I do this practice of singing-it-like-it-is often and it helps me to connect more fully with whatever I’m doing with less baggage attached.”
I wake up fairly often throughout the night and when I do I tend to check the time. Last night I dreamt that the power was restored and I woke up to find that it had just come back on, around 11:00pm. The lights on our portable heater were glowing an orangish red, indicating that it was turned on. The motion light on the hut nearest to us kept flicking on its bright beam, shining through our windows. Despite it being lazy day today I awoke just after my normal time of 3:30am. The rains and wind had passed, leaving a welcomed stillness and a sky full of stars. I followed my regular routine of writing and drinking tea in the dining hall and then went up to the big meditation hall for sitting meditation. As usual another lay friend by the name of Kevin was already sitting in the hall, which I found comforting. On lazy day there is no schedule other than meals so he and I were the only ones in there, which was also very delightful. I sat for almost an hour and then did three prostrations by the alter, after which I stayed for a few minutes immersed in the beauty of the orchid flowers which adorn it. The alter in the big hall is purposefully without an image of the Buddha and consists of an incense holder, two oil lamps and a great assortment of orchids flowering in all stages, colors, and layers. I’ve never seen so many orchids in one spot before – their beauty is beyond explanation and cannot be captured in words. I’ve always known orchids to be very tricky to keep and grow but they sure do thrive like the dickens here! Even in the often cold meditation hall. Perhaps they thrive on the energy of the sangha!
After admiring the sheer awesomeness of the flowers I went outside to do stick exercise and then returned back down to Clarity. It was only 7:00am by that point and breakfast wouldn’t be served until 8:00, on account of lazy day when it gets served a little later than usual. Since I had an hour to enjoy before breakfast I decided since it was lazy day I could listen to my music and walk/dance around the parking lot. Usually we are in a period of noble silence until after we wash our dishes after breakfast and I very much enjoy keeping that quiet, still time. After about 30 minutes I was on what I resolved to be my last song, before I would go back to my hut to plug in my ipod to charge before breakfast, when something happened. Things can change so quickly sometimes! With one dance move I brought up my right leg and wound up crashing it squarely into my glass water bottle hanging on the side of my shoulder bag draped around me. In that instance a shooting, crippling pain arose in my right calf. I couldn’t move it without severe pain. I stood there frozen, following my breathing, thinking it might just be a charlie horse type of thing and would soon pass. I tried putting weight on it and my leg buckled underneath me. I made it back to my hut extremely slow footed, hobbling along trying not to bear weight on my right side, which is difficult to do. Turns out both legs and feet really are necessary in the whole activity of walking.
So here I am, nestled in my little hut for very different reasons that I had intended. Last night I thought maybe the rains and wind would persist through today resulting in a truly lazy day lounging around the hut. But this morning after stick exercise I felt so invigorated by the freshness of the day, the rising sun, and blue skies that I was looking forward to taking a leisurely walk after breakfast down to the entrance gates at the foot of Deer Park’s long and winding driveway, accompanied only by my music and the sweetness of my own company. But our best laid plans can sometimes melt quickly into another reality all together at the kick of a water bottle!
I’m not sure what I did but the pain is increasing. I imagine I must’ve pulled a muscle or caused some kind of impact strain. I can no longer even place my foot flat on the floor without a great deal of pain. Soon after I hobbled back to my hut I approached my one long-running roommate, who arrived the same day as I did. She was getting ready to head to breakfast. I asked her for a favor, wondering if she could help me track down some crutches. I was without an appetite for breakfast and had many things to keep me occupied so I was in no hurry but she still sprung right to action on my behalf. She’s been very sweet and is taking good care of me. Even though she asked multiple times, and I insisted each time I was not in need of any breakfast, she returned with a bowl of fruit and some nuts saying, “I guess I don’t follow instructions very well.” She then went to get me a wet washcloth to put beside me, in case I needed to wash my hands after eating the orange slices she had included. It was then I joked with her, “This isn’t your first rodeo!”
The hunt still continues for crutches. One of the Sisters came to check on me and gave me the update about how she’s been looking, but to no avail as of yet. I remember seeing some up in the tea room store closet in Solidity so I’m confident some will appear at some point – I’m not anxious to go anywhere so I’m in no rush. My roommate brought me an ice pack and helped to set me up in two plastic outdoor type chairs from our front porch, with my legs outstretched and foot propped up on a pillow. And it’s here that I sit and type and nurse my injured leg. Twisting around I can see the luscious blue sky filling with sunshine through the spiraling limbs of the oak trees.
I’m imagining that my next few days, perhaps even the remainder of my stay, will be spent with the helpful aid of crutches. Certainly not ideal, especially given that literally everywhere we travel here either requires us to go up or down hill, and often steeply so. But thankfully I’ve had a lot of practice in dealing with pain, illness, and injury over the years and I do not feel overly bothered or weighted down by this new development. I am a little concerned with how this might affect my underlying chronic nerve condition, that affects my legs and feet, but there’s not much I can do about that so there really isn’t much sense in getting too wrapped up in worry. Worrying has never, and will never, be of any benefit to any situation. The practice of self-care, gentleness, mindful breathing, and staying grounded in the present moment is an incredibly deep well to dig in.
The Sister just came in and delivered me some crutches – I’m off to try out my new legs!
It didn’t take long to discover that the crutches the Sister had brought for me were much too big. Upon further inspection I saw that they were indeed for much taller individuals than I was. They were marked for heights of 5′ 10″ and upwards of 6′ 6″. I’m 5′ 2″. Yep, definitely not going to work. Once my one roommate got back I told her about the crutches and she then went on a mission to track down some appropriately sized crutches. I told her I had seen some up in the tea room in Solidity so she went there and soon came back with a smaller set. Huzzah! Thank goodness for her wonderful care of me.
Just as she was getting back one of the older Sisters came to check up on me. She brought some arnica cream for me and also some chinese medicine. She was very sweet and caring. She thought I should apply the arnica for the next 24 hours and then switch to the chinese medicine, which consists of some kind of liquid I was instructed to shake well, heat up on a spoon over a provided candle, and then massage into the affected area. The shaking of the bottle and the heating up of the liquid was very important, as she mentioned it a few times to make sure I understood.
With properly sized crutches in tow I made my maiden voyage out of the hut around noon to fetch some water, mostly just to try out my new sea legs, so to speak. After I returned a short while later I laid down to take a nap, figuring on skipping lunch. I still had the food my roommate had brought me from breakfast and i figured that would be enough to tide me over until dinner. But when I awoke I could smell the sweet aroma of vegetables and saw that she had brought me lunch as well. A bowl of rice, green beans, tofu, and mushrooms awaited me.
I hobbled outside to eat on our front porch amid the streaming sunlight. It was deceptively cool outside in temperature, but then that isn’t uncommon here surrounded by the oak trees. After I finished eating, and putting on an extra layer of clothing, I decided to make my way up the dirt steps to the big meditation hall. I figured I’d see how long it would take me on the crutches and also gauge how difficult they would be to traverse, in preparation for tomorrow morning’s sitting. When I made it to the top of the steps I wrote this:
“I made it to the top of the 91 dirt steps in about 10 minutes on my crutches. Seems pretty good! The sun is radiating in congratulations and the eucalyptus tree, its branches chock full of green curving leaves, rustles in the same breeze my raven friend was just soaring by on. When I reached the top I grabbed a Halls cough drop from my bag, the wrapper of it stating: A pep talk in every drop. “You’ve survived tougher,” it said, and: “Don’t give up on yourself,” and finally: “You can do it and you know it.” Well, it was right of course, like all good cough drop wrapper pep talks are. I have survived tougher, I won’t give up on myself, and I do know I can do it! Thank you Halls cough drop for the dose of encouragement :)
Sitting at the top of these steps affords a nice view of the new nunnery building (which serves as a much needed residence for up to 30 Sisters, with 5 per room, and was just recently completed), four cypress trees (that Thay had instructed not to tear down amid the construction process), which are very distinctive and can be seen from a good distance away, the large dirt parking lot, and the fire road. It also offers a bird’s eye view of the oak grove. There’s even a slice between mountain rises where I can see a bit of Escondido in the distance. The heavy saturation of rain from yesterday, with its ankle deep pools and streams coursing steadily down the road, has all disappeared, having sunken deliciously into the earth. Hardly any trace is left of its day long downpour, save for the slightly darkened shade of soil. But I’m quite sure the plants have not forgotten. Storing, savoring, salivating over its fresh supply of liquid energy, the great elixir of life.”
It feels as though I have a book’s worth of writing from just today alone! Can you tell I’ve been laid up today?!